Temperatures are running high in the Hilltop as rumors of a new halfway house for sex offenders run rampant.
Richard Garrett, 63, is a prison minister who says he is cleaning up a house in the 1600 block of South Grant Avenue and considering his options for the property.
Neighbors say that Garrett is building a home for Level 2 and 3 sex offenders.
Garrett doesn’t know where the information about a sex offender home came from and is frustrated by the hostility of the neighborhood.
“They’re not sympathetic to me because of lies and rumors,” he said.
The dispute came to a head Thursday night, when neighbors confronted Garrett, his daughter and his wife after a heated meeting at Stanley Elementary.
There was a scuffle and after some pushing and shoving, Rosa Johnson, 63, pulled out a gun as a warning. No one was harmed.
Johnson said Garrett reached to his pocket, and she thought he was pulling a weapon. Johnson has a license to carry a concealed weapon and pulled out her gun.
“I brought mine out,” Johnson said. “I pulled it out. Whatever he was going for in his pocket, he stopped.”
After Johnson showed her gun, the Garretts called the police.
Richard Garrett said he is considering using the house, which until recently belonged to his sister, for released prisoners who are part of his ministry or as a home for veterans.
Garrett himself is a former prisoner and a Vietnam veteran. After being convicted of robbery, Garrett spent 12 years in jail. He was released in 1987 and hasn’t reoffended, he said.
“I know people can change,” he said.
A home for sex offenders was not an option he considered because of the proximity of Stanley Elementary School and a Boys & Girls Club, he said. If the home were to be occupied by ex-convicts, Garrett said, they would have to be people he works with and knows through his ministry.
City records show that Garrett has obtained a permit to remodel the house and a business license to rent it out. City planner Jennifer Ward said when she and a building inspector spoke with Garrett about his remodeling permit last week, Garrett told her “there might be an option to house people in it.” Ward added Garrett never said his potential tenants would be sex offenders.
“I think he used the words ‘halfway house,’ but we didn’t get into details,” she said.
The other residents of the block believe Garrett is attempting to fly under the radar to open a house for sex offenders.
At Thursday’s neighborhood meeting, Jeanie Peterson of the Hilltop Action Coalition announced to neighbors that she knew the house would be home to between six to 10 upper level offenders. The announcement riled up the audience of about 50. Garrett, who says he was not invited, was not there.
As of Friday, Department of Corrections officials said Garrett’s house wasn’t on the list of approved housing vendors for supervised sex offenders, nor has there been an application submitted to add it to the list.
“At this point, there’s not any sex offenders under DOC supervision involved in this home,” DOC spokesman Chad Lewis said.
And there never will be, Garrett said.
“(The words sex offender) never came out of my mouth,” he said. “It’s based on a lie.”
Neighbor Renee Walker, 63, said that’s not true. She lives across the street and has been watching the remodel of Garrett’s house. She said she heard Garrett say the house would host sex offenders. Garrett denies he ever said it.
Many neighbors have put up signs in their yards and windows denouncing a house for sex offenders. Offender housing is a sore subject for the community on South Grant.
“We’ve had a history of drugs and sex predators” Johnson said. When Garrett began work on the house and exploring options such as housing for former prisoners, a sex offender house was “really not hard to imagine,” she said.
Lauren Walker, who represents the neighborhood on the Tacoma City Council, said she has requested a meeting with DOC and Garrett for “clarity.”